Stew Leonard Sr., the founder of the beloved Stew Leonard’s regional supermarket chain in the northeast, passed away at the age of 93 after a short illness.
Leonard graduated from the University of Connecticut’s School of Agriculture. Soon after, he began his career by working at his family’s dairy in Norwalk. In 1969, he built a state-of-the-art dairy store in Norwalk that was deemed the world’s largest at 17,000 square feet by Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The store delivered milk in trucks fronted by plastic cows that “mooed” for the neighborhood children. The Norwalk location was the first of the seven Stew Leonard’s supermarkets that can be found in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.
Stew Leonard’s is currently a $600 million family-owned business that employs more than 2,500 people. But, it may be most notable for its animatronics. Besides its singing cows, you can find a singing parrot with a top hat above the mayonnaise aisle. And even a man in a hot air balloon playing an accordion hanging from the ceiling above the deli. In a few of its stores, you will also find a petting zoo.
He helped turn Stew Leonard’s into a destination for fresh food and produce for families in our area while providing jobs here in Yonkers.Mike Spano – Mayor of Yonkers
The company was named one of Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” for ten years in a row. And personally, Stew Leonard Sr. was presented with the Presidential Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Furthermore, Supermarket News named him “one of the top 50 visionaries” in 2002.
His top role in the company ended in 1993. This was due to Leonard being convicted of tax fraud and having to serve 44 months in prison. Since then, his son Stew Leonard Jr., along with siblings Tom, Beth, and Jill, have been running the business. Five of his 13 grandchildren have also joined the family business.
Although he was no longer in a top role in the company, the senior Leonard remained involved and often showed up at the stores to greet customers and employees. Leonard Jr. described his father as always having a positive outlook on things and treated everyone the same. He was inspirational to not only his family but also to the thousands of people who worked in their company. And believe it or not, Leonard was an award-winning water-skier.
The legacy of Stew Leonard Sr. lives on through his large family, business empire, and the countless shoppers that visit his visionary marketplaces each day.